Say Goodbye (The Age)
Interview with Mark Seymour close to the end of Hunters.
Author: John Mangan, The Age.
Date: 10 October 1997.
Original URL: N/A
He looks trim, athletic, full of energy as he walks out of Mushroom Records’ Albert Park premises into the mild spring sunshine. It isn’t until Mark Seymour sits down in a nearby restaurant that he confesses he’s actually upset and angry and he’d love to tell you all about it.
Seymour is at a turning point in his career. Hunters & Collectors, the band he has fronted for the past 17 years has just announced it is breaking up. At the same time, he has only weeks ago released his first solo album, a collection of songs that reflect a more subtle and introspective side of the man who has been the face of arguably Australia’s most gritty and powerful live rock’n’roll act of the last two decades.
The critics have generally championed the Hunters’ cause and while a string of songs like Say Goodbye, Throw Your Arms Around Me, Holy Grail, The Slab and Talking to a Stranger have confirmed their berth in the Australian rock Pantheon, the band have never quite cracked it overseas.
But neither have they faced accusations of selling out. Right up to the announcement of its breakup on the Footy Show before the AFL grand final, the Hunters have enjoyed an unshakeable street credibility.
Still, what criticism there has hurt almost as much as the dusting up Seymour received at the hands of muggers in Sydney in August. In the old days Seymour used to burn for a week or so after a bad review, now he reckons he has pegged that back to about 24 hours- but the review he’s just read before lunch of his new album, King Without A Clue, has him seething.
“Just so you know where I am, I read a crop of reviews this morning and all of them were glowing except for one,” he says earnestly. “The one that was not glowing was absolutely scathing. It was the worst review I’ve ever received for anything in my long career. It absolutely tore me apart. I’m very upset and I’m taking it completely personally, as I always do. That is the worst review I’ve ever had in my life.”
The review, in this month’s Rolling Stone praises Seymour’s dignity and passion but complains about “furrowed-brow warblings” and “a tone of defeat” deciding that the sings “comes up largely empty-handed”.
Watching Seymour focus and vent his anger is riveting. The guy who night after night has got up on sweaty pub stages and screamed, “You don’t make me feel like I’m a woman anymore” is calm and composed, but so driven. “To set the record straight,” he says, “this album is the best thing I have ever done in my life. I’m totally committed to it. I’m just going to talk this album up.”
The decision to split Hunters & Collectors was not an easy one. The group -members had been discussing it tentatively for a few years, but had decided that when they went, they had to do it in style, with an album and a proper farewell tour.
“Hunters & Collectors have never failed to guarantee full houses all over the country,” Seymour says. “We toured briefly earlier this year and that confirmed we were in pretty good shape as far as the club circuit is concerned. We went straight to the top and asked Eddie McGuire and he was only too willing to break the big news.”
Even though the band has been in a state of semi-retirement for the past three years, there was a tension as the band came off the Footy Show set. “It felt really strange on the night, even though we’d discussed it ad nauseam. Some of the guys don’t want to break up – we’ve all got mixed feelings about it. When the actual announcement was made, in the room afterwards there was a sort of a quiet sadness. I just ran out the door.”
Seymour, at least, had somewhere to run. King Without A Clue has been in the pipeline for two years as the singer scheduled writing and recording sessions around his commitments and those of his collaborators, including Hunters’ guitarist Barry Palmer, and Seymour’s brother Nick, of Crowded House fame.
They talked about the nature of pop music, about song structure, about emotional consistency’ the album has a collaborative feel even though Seymour’s hands were very firmly on the steering-wheel. The result is a collection of songs that are both vulnerable and bleak.
“It’s very melancholy,” he says. “The qualities the record displays are its softness, its emotional honesty, and the fact that it doesn’t sound like a Hunters & Collectors record. It doesn’t sound like anything in particular – it sounds like Mark Seymour – what else can I say?” For the first time during the interview, he laughs.
And what does Mark Seymour sound like these days? For one thing, he doesn’t sound like a teenager – this is an album grounded in experience. “My music is not going to be understood by 14 year old boys. Mark Seymour isn’t interested in writing songs for an audience that isn’t interested in subtlety. I’m in midlife and I’ve accumulated a great deal of experience. I’ve had a lot of pain and a lot of joy in my life and I want to bring all that experience to bear when I perform a three-and-a-half minute song.”
Life with Hunters & Collectors has been a 17 year marathon from the groovy backrooms of Melbourne’s inner – city circuit. Now Seymour finds himself on the starting blocks again, his reputation on the line like never before, unsure how he will be received without the might of the Hunters behind him, yet certain of his own direction.
“I could make any kind of record and some people would slag it off, because you’ve got to bring the king down. I’ve got to be destroyed. But I’m not going to fucking die. I’m going to keep doing this, because I just love it. I really have a passion for it.”
Mark Seymour plays the Evelyn, Fitzroy tonight and the Continental, Prahan, tomorrow night.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!